Non-revenue, or "non-rev" travel, is an amazing perk enjoyed by airline and airline subsidiary employees around the world. The opportunity to fly yourself and your passriders around the world on a frequent basis for free or at a reduced rate is an incredible opportunity that not a whole lot of people will ever get to experience.
You're probably familiar with the phrase, "with great power comes great responsibility". This phrase is very relevant in the world of non-rev travel as well. With the privilege of free or reduced-fare flight comes a responsibility to represent yourself, your coworkers, and your employer in a positive manner.
This post is not intended to sound "preachy" or to say "don't do this" over and over again. I am in no way claiming to be the authority on behavior and etiquette. This post is also not a replacement for an individual airline's policies and procedures. It is merely a collection of what may be considered appropriate or inappropriate behavior during non-rev travel--and most of it is pretty simple.
Opinions of experienced non-revvers from gate agents to flight attendants to ramp agents to pilots was sought out. I also have some personal experience in the matter. Whether you're new to non-revving (because we've all been there!) or you're a retiree (thanks for paving the way!), hopefully the information shared will help your overall non-rev experience be a smooth one--because nobody likes turbulence!
(Quite frankly, I wish something like this post existed when I was a non-rev rookie, because most of what I have learned has come from trial-and-error experience and reading snarky comments in forums).
*And by the way, you can skip all the way down to the bottom if you want to see the #1 piece of advice. It isn't a secret 🙂
Planning for Non-Rev Travel
Passriders and Buddies
One benefit of non-rev travel is the ability to include qualified individuals on your list of passriders. Some (but not all) airlines also provide a number of "buddy passes", or reduced rate tickets, for employees to share. As the employee, it is imperative that you understand that in the eyes of the airline, those riders are YOU. You are responsible for them and their actions.
For example, if one of your "buddies" gets in a shouting match with a flight attendant about wearing a mask or face covering, it may as well have been you doing the shouting. Not only is having a guest on your pass become confrontational poor etiquette, it could mean serious consequences for you and your career.
Have an honest talk with your guests. Let them know they may not get the seat or flight they prefer. Let them know about the very real possibility of not getting a seat at all! And by all means, make sure your guests are ones you can trust to represent you well. Make sure they'll keep you out of trouble. You have more at stake than they do.
Listing for Non-Rev Travel
The process for listing for non-rev flights is different depending on the airline. Some processes are based on seniority and/or priority, some are based on a first-come-first-serve basis, and some use a combination. It can get a little controversial at times.
For those airlines that use a seniority/priority type of system, there are some rules that the employer require you to follow, as well as some basic etiquette involved.
The common preference is for travelers to list themselves on flights as early as possible. This allows other non-revvers to plan accordingly and find other alternatives if there are several employees on the list ahead of them. That said, it is difficult for anyone to know what flight loads may look like until about 24 hours beforehand.
So, 24 hours in advance seems to be the accepted time range for listing on a flight; however, extending this courtesy may not always be possible. If a non-rev traveler is unable to secure a seat on a flight, he or she may quickly list on another flight. It is acceptable for that person to do so and it is sometimes the "nature of the beast" when it comes to non-rev travel. Although frustrating to see the list ahead of you grow, it is part of the game and you just may be on the other end of it someday.
Listing on More than One Flight
One of the primary "cardinal sins" is listing on more than one flight at a time. For example, lets say there is one flight leaving for a destination at 12:40pm and another flight leaving for a location near the originally desired destination at 12:50pm. One may feel tempted to place their name on both lists in order to hustle over to the other gate if the first doesn't work out.
Or maybe someone might not be as flexible with the destination and lists for the same destination more than once (i.e. lists for the 12:40pm flight, the 1:30pm flight, and the 2:45pm flight).
Both scenarios make it difficult for other non-revvers to plan their course of action. It is frustrating for someone to see a family of five listed ahead of them for Flight A, so she searches for Flight B, only to find the same family of five listed ahead of her on that flight as well. Which flight will the family be taking? Obviously, they can't be on both flights. It becomes a 50/50 crapshoot for the person trying to plan for their non-rev travel.
As with most situations, sometimes there are some exceptions. Sometimes, being listed on more than one flight can't be avoided. For instance, if a non-rev traveler needs to change one leg of their flight due to it being full, or a delay, or whatever the case may be, the system may not allow them to remove themselves from the list. The action might need to be taken by a gate agent. If the gate agent is busy helping paying customers, there may not be time to remove the non-rev traveler from the listing.
Non-Rev Travel at the Airport
This piece of non-rev advice is applicable throughout the entire experience, but more so once you are in the public eye. It is good non-rev travel etiquette to be discreet and humble about being an airline employee. I think we are all very proud of our abilities to fly for free, but nobody likes a bragger--never have, never will.
Once people in the airport realize that you are an employee, their expectations of you increase and the target on your back gets bigger and bigger. Paying customers are why we are able to do what we do, but they will also see and resent if they witness you asking for special treatment or not respecting those around you. As difficult as it is to accept sometimes--we are in a "fishbowl".
The expectations of your fellow airline industry employees also increase. That giant pile of Cheez-Its crumbs your kids left next to the counter? Your fellow airline industry employees will have to clean that up. It happens with paying customers from time to time and, unfortunately, it is just the way it is. Don't you be the one to do it to your airline brothers and sisters!
Be humble, be kind, and do your best to help out your brothers-and-sisters-in-arms!
Unless your employer requires you to do so, don't wear or display your employee badge while you non-rev travel. There is usually no need to do so. That target on your back I mentioned up above? It just tripled in size. Don't put yourself in that position.
Sometimes, the displaying of a badge comes across to those working as someone expecting preferential treatment. From my unofficial research, the opposite effect usually occurs. Again, unless your employer has a reason for it, try to keep it tucked away if you have to take it with you.
Masks and Face Coverings
Who would have predicted that we would be where we are just one year ago? Today, most states, airports, and airlines require you to wear masks or face coverings to minimize spread of COVID-19.
It is well known that not everyone agrees with this practice or requirement. No matter your stance on the issue, airline employees have no choice but to enforce policies. Don't make it harder on them than it has to be. This extends to your time on the flight as well. It is what it is. Wear a mask. Socially distance. Don't pout about it.
(Read more about what some destinations and resorts are doing about the new CDC COVID19 entry to the US requirements)
Non-Rev Travel Attire
This is one area in particular that can cause a little bit of a stir. Flying on an airplane used to pretty glamorous--but times have changed a bit (read more about that here). Today, the standards are a little more relaxed, but still important.
While employee non-rev dress codes will vary from airline to airline, for the most part, they are fairly similar. Minimum requirements are: wear clean/odor-free clothes; don't wear anything that might be considered vulgar or offensive; wear some sort of footwear; no swimwear; and cover up any vulgar or offensive tattoos. Now, "vulgar or offensive" can cover a lot of territory because people can be offended by just about anything, but commonsense can be a pretty valuable ally here.
At the Gate
You're almost there...you made it through security, you found your gate, and you've settled in to watch the monitor and check your phone for seats every 30 seconds or so. The gate agent is working his tail off trying to get everyone squared away. You think seats might work out, but you're on the bubble. You fight with every ounce of your being to not run up to the counter to make sure you're getting on. Fight that feeling hard! TRY NOT TO SWARM THE GATE AGENT!
Gate agents have a job to do. Dozens to hundreds of paying customers need to be given seat assignments. In most situations, the gate agents are well aware of the standby situation. If there is what you feel is a delay in your seat assignment, try to be patient. They just may be trying to get you into a better seating situation than the "sure thing" seats you see on your phone. There is a lot the gate agent can see that you can't.
If it is getting close to "go" time and the paying customers have boarded, it is usually appropriate to politely approach the gate agent. Although they are great at what they do, they are human and oversights have occurred in the past. A polite inquiry usually goes a lot farther than an impatient or rude approach.
Non-Rev Travel on the Airplane
From time to time, non-rev travelers will ask flight attendants for preferential treatment. For example, an employee may ask for some complimentary wine even though he or she is seated in a class that does not provide complimentary drinks. Don't put the flight attendants in this or any other awkward position. (On a similar note: If in a class where alcohol is served, don't overindulge. This can end poorly for all involved)
It is also unadvisable to request another seat just because it is empty. For instance, don't ask a flight attendant if you can move to first class because there appears to be an empty row. The gate agent more than likely attempted to get you the best seat available. There may be reasons for that empty seat or row that you may be unaware of.
Also, be sure to give your flight attendants some space. Although most flight attendants are pretty outgoing, there is little time for them to catch their breath on a small, flying, cylinder of metal. Try to leave them alone and give them a chance to relax if the opportunity presents itself to them. They'll be there for you when you really need them.
Finally, there may come times when you are asked to move seats or to deplane. In either situation, respond to the flight attendant or gate agent politely and do what you are asked graciously. Most of the time these actions are asked of you to accommodate for paying customers. Nobody is "being mean" to you on purpose.
Food and Drinks
Taking food or drinks to your passriders who are in another class is also not advised--and more than likely against airline policy. Again, be courteous and don't put the flight attendants in the weird position of calling you out.
In some cases, on flights that serve meals, you may not end up getting the meal of your choice. Remember that paying customers get first choice and preferential treatment. Flight attendants aren't hiding meals just to see how you react--at least I don't think...
Speaking of meals, like the scenario at the gate, be sure to pick up after yourself and any kids you may be traveling with. Accidents happen, but flight attendants, gate agents, ramp agents, and groomers have difficult jobs as it is--try not to make it more difficult for them.
Conclusion to Non-Rev Travel Etiquette
The #1 Piece of Advice
Maybe you've heard of the book, "All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten". Without coming across as being condescending, this sentiment is very true in the world of non-rev travel. Basically, clean-up after yourself, follow directions, treat others with respect, and probably the most important: BE KIND!
The "be kind" advice is a multi-way street. If you're the employee non-revving, be kind to those who are working. If you are the employee working, be kind to those who are non-revving. A smile goes a long ways (and yes, you CAN smile with your eyes while we're all wearing those masks).
We are sometimes inundated with rules and regulations and policies without knowing the reason for them. Hopefully this information highlighted some of the reasons for why things happen the way they happen during non-rev travel. And hopefully, just a small plea to be kind to each other will make your non-rev experience a smooth one for all of us.
Show each other grace. At any given time, your roles of traveler/employee will be reversed. Don't put each other in poor positions. Take care of each other. After all, we're all in the same boat--or plane.
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